There’s nothing like a toilet to pull a monarch down from her throne...
I heave the rest of last night’s bad decisions into the bowl until I’m completely dry, nothing more than saliva comes out as my stomach continues to do its job poorly. Bad punk music plays over too loud speakers in the corner of the graffiti coated bathroom, the kick drum pounds mercilessly into my temples.
Oh thank god it’s over, I think. I wipe my mouth and come to my feet too tired to even flush. I walk out the stall several pounds lighter and wash my hands and face in the paint-covered sink. I come up to see two sunken eyes in the mirror masked by faded scars that cross from my left brow to the bottom of my right chin.
My hair is a mess, all grown in and now nothing but a black frizzy bottomless jungle. Everything from my cheeks to my neck and collarbones is starkly visible; I’d lost so much weight on my month-long journey. All that clawing and fighting my way through the barren countryside facing monster after monster; it does something awful to you after a time. It’ll take weeks of reconditioning to get my body back to what it used to be.
Other than the cramps in my stomach I don’t feel weak. The procedure worked perfectly, my burns are gone and my legs are fastened together with thin scars for me to remember them by. I undo the bandages on my arms, take hold of the stitches with my fingernails and rip them out like a band aid. Small crimson currents dance to my fingertips and drip onto the dirty wooden floor as I flick them into the sink and rinse it all down the drain. There are no towels to dry off with so I use my ripped tan shirt to add two more stained hand-prints to my collection. I pull my gloves back on, loop my old black belt through my pathetically ripped jeans and jaggedly shuffle back outside.
The bar is cramped and small, home to all misfits destitute enough to make their way over the broken threshold. It’s made out of two old industrial-sized storage containers with heavily abused steel walls covered in shitty artwork and boarded up windows. Dusty broken tables sit partially abandoned and partially covered in goo, who knows what it is and what it’s from. Its residents look just like me, tired and hungry travelers who’ve never found a home. They rot in here and try to lose their sense of self in the deceptive comfort of liquid bliss. Some never leave, I’m fairly certain that one heavily cloaked skinny guy was dead in that corner the last time I came.
I take a seat once more at the bar where Thief sleeps soundly, her long brown ponytail swimming in what was left of her morning “cocktail.” I sort of remember when she showed up last night to check on me, I sort of remember being mad at her for it, I definitely remember fucking her in the bathroom and then throwing up afterwards...the rest was completely washed away. Did I take a few tabs? I think. This feels like an acid hangover....my body is trying to remind me what I did last night but my brain just doesn’t have the data.
“An egg, raw, and some hot sauce please.” I ask the bartender. “Mix it with some gin and worces--wochet--wor...” Worcestershire sauce my brain says. “That yes.” Thief snorts and cracks her eyes open, then goes right back to sleep. The bartender puts a glass with nothing but one foul smelling egg in front of me before he turns away. He’s a short fat man who’s always dripping sweat into the drinks. He never talks, he never interacts with his visitors, he puts drinks in my hand whether I’m conscious or not, takes my money, and then goes about his business. He is my best friend.
I pinch my nose and slide the slimy green egg down my throat, it’s so slippery I don’t even have to force it down. I shudder as it squishes down my esophagus like a worm that drops down a fence post on a trail left by a slug. Looking forward to seeing you again in about thirty minutes I tell it as it settles in my stomach. I hand the glass back to the bartender without letting go and glance at an opaque bottle of something clear. He follows my gaze, picks it up and pours it half onto my hand and half in my cup. This time it’s actually gin, the cheap kind.
I sip quietly and try to blink away the cruel sunlight through hazy red eyes. My eyelids mash down on little islands of sand permanently stuck to the bottom lashes and whenever I open them again it’s like pulling a wet sticker off a rusty car bumper. As much as I’d like to put my head down and pass out like my friend here, my trusty hyper vigilance keeps me annoyingly awake and aware.
At the corner of our table is a man and his...I think it’s his wife...both of them are in hunting gear. At one of the old booths are two lovers with no regard for time of day or potential audiences. At the back of the container is an ancient broken jukebox that no longer works, a smaller shrouded figure slumped down its side and another crushed at the back between the walls.
A group of four warriors from a neighboring semi-friendly tribe gather around a wobbly table smoking cigarettes and playing cards. Sardis’s men. I think. They’re always passing through here, hell, my district grows and sells the best tobacco in the world. A couple of odd random fellows either sit or stand alone scattered throughout the space, none of them seem dangerous and very few are conscious. It smells like rotting pigs in here, masked by sweet liquor and body odor. It smells like home.
I lean over to listen to the conversation of the couple at the end of our table, both happen to be from my own district but they’re not syndicate members. They’re bounty hunters like the rest of us, I can tell by their clothes and their rugged demeanor.
“There’s no doubt about it,” he says to her. “They’re making more 343 units, I know it.”
“Oh come on,” she says. “You listen to too much news, it’s making you paranoid. That whole story was nothing more than propaganda anyways.”
“You heard about that city in Colossus?” he retorts. “The Legion leveled it within minutes!” He exclaims. “All the residents are reported missing. Just like the old days when the hybrids were first activated. They have to be making them again, I just know it. They’ll be after us next...”
No, dumbass. I think. That was me.
“I thought that was King,” she says a little too loudly. Thank you, I think. She puts a hand on his shoulder, a gold band around her finger. Cute, I think. Married couples are so rare. “Saint said over the radio that the Syndicate was there a week ago. Trust me, the Martians are just trying to scare us...”
“Did you see they raised the bounty on Number Seven?” he says, and I shoot up in my chair, my ears tingling. Even Thief opens an eye and moves her elbow to look at them. “It’s over two million credits now. They wouldn’t have done that if they weren’t making new models, I think they want to find it so that it doesn’t come destroy the new ones.”
“It’s just a legend!” She says. “Seriously, and I’ve been meaning to talk to you about this for a while, maybe it’s time to get some help for your anxiety...” and I tap out of their conversation. Two million credits, I think. All that for a missing robot?
343N units are the monsters under every kids bed, every crack woman’s worst fear and every warlord’s boast. The legend says that the Martians created a team of automaton-mutant hybrids that could never be destroyed, designed to decimate what was left of us.
Story goes that one went rogue and now lives as a mercenary, hunting down and killing Legion soldiers and tribe members as it pleases. It was so bad that they deactivated the rest of them since Number Seven turned out to be so dangerous and they didn’t want to risk having the others go rogue too. However there’s no proof that any of this is true, both the missing unit or the hybrids in the first place. The Martians will tell anything just to keep people scared and the the missing unit is just a bounty hunter myth.
The door opens and it breaks me out of my thoughts on bounty hunting. Two newcomers walk through the bar to take their place one chair away from us. They’re both dressed in similar combat gear to what we typically wear, skin tight protective underclothes with a bullet proof vest and heavily laden belt, except theirs are dark blue. Both are male, one large and overly built and the other thinner with more of a fighter’s physique.
Of course both of them are taller than me, Thief is 6′1 and they look to be the same. Both have black tattoos inching up their neck, softening into complicated oriental wave patterns as they descend into their uniforms. I know the design well. The one closest to me is sweating heavily, he’s considerably more winded than the other but they both look as if they’d been running. Zion’s men, I think. The hell are they doing in my district? I tap Thief with my elbow but she doesn’t acknowledge me. I take one more glance at the travelers and notice a small yellow spot at the bottom of his sleeve.
“What brings you so far East?” I ask as they’re sitting down. Thief shifts in her seat but doesn’t open her eyes, however I know she’s listening. The smaller one looks at me while the other continues to order drinks. I hope I’m unrecognizable in my emaciated state. Everyone knows the names of the warlords, but we live in a disconnected world, so faces are still unknown to most. Besides, I’m pretty sure that guy Xen and his wife didn’t notice, so I think I’m in the clear here...
“Just passing through,” he replies as he accepts his drink from the bartender. I can’t tell what it is wrapped inside his massive hand.
“Ah, I see.” I reply. “I trust your journey has treated you well so far?” I ask.
He focuses only on his glass and replies stiffly. “Hasn’t been too difficult.” I can tell he doesn’t want to talk, so I let the conversation go.
I glance at the bartender and trace an invisible letter on the table with my finger. He gives the slightest bow at the neck and steps away into what I’m assuming is a kitchen, the old black door swings rhythmically at its hinges. Thief quietly slides off the edge of her seat and walks towards the bathroom, tenderly adjusting a loosely tied machete around her hips as she passes me.
I take my egg-juice kissed glass and smash it against the table, watching in a daze as it splinters and refracts the depressing dim light of the bar. The whole room shifts their attention to the source of the noise, I can almost hear the bones creak as they all turn their necks to look at me. I hold my new audience captive and bash my shards into the pulsing wet lymph nodes of the unsuspecting traveler, plunging the sleepy forgotten tavern into total anarchy.